The and 'a'

Questions from teachers about English grammar and usage

Moderator: Susan

Posts: 1
Joined: Sun Feb 28, 2016 3:10 pm
Status: Trainee Teacher

The and 'a'

Unread post by TonyYeboah » Sun Feb 28, 2016 3:23 pm


I am currently doing teacher practice with an ESOL class and had a few grammar questions if anyone can help. Firstly I have to teach a lesson with the following question: 'why does one speaker say 'the' greengrocers and the other 'a' greengrocers?' From the statements below:

(A) I'm going to the greengrocer's. Do you want anytjing?

(B) Excuse me, is there a greengrocer's near here?

I'm new to teaching English, and although i have a working definition in my head, i'd like to explain it simply but also with grammitical terminology. Also, i'm wondering exactly why we use 'a' and 'an', my understanding is that we use an before a word that begins with a vowel, such as apple, and a before everything else, although i'm not sure why, or if this is the exact reason. Any help would be very much appreaciated.

Thank you

User avatar
Posts: 134
Joined: Mon May 09, 2005 5:35 pm
Location: England

Re: The and 'a'

Unread post by Susan » Mon Feb 29, 2016 7:40 pm

Hi Tony,

A: the 2 people having the conversation both know which greengrocer's is being discussed.

B: the greengrocer's is unknown to the person asking the question. (S)he is asking generally about that type of shop.

A is used before vowels, you're right there. Except words such as uniform; the u is not pronounced the same as the u in umbrella.


User avatar
Prolific Member
Prolific Member
Posts: 45
Joined: Sat Feb 08, 2014 10:28 am
Status: Teacher

Re: The and 'a'

Unread post by cerealkillah » Tue Mar 01, 2016 10:58 pm

I agree with Susan but I would say that the word "uniform" is no exception to the rule. Since we are talking about vowels (preceded by an) and consonants (a) it is the sound that matters, not the initial letter. We have to think in terms of pronunciation. Another 'unusual' examples:
an hour, an honest man, a year, a yellow cab.

Prolific Member
Prolific Member
Posts: 28
Joined: Tue Feb 28, 2017 9:47 am
Status: Other
Location: London

Re: The and 'a'

Unread post by LeesaJohnson » Tue Mar 14, 2017 6:59 am

English has two articles definite (The) and indefinite(a/an). A and An are indefinite articles and are used when referring to something the first time. The is the definite article and is used to refer to specific objects.

Busy Member
Busy Member
Posts: 11
Joined: Mon Jan 01, 2018 12:32 pm
Status: New Teacher

Re: The and 'a'

Unread post by NiallHoughton » Mon Jan 01, 2018 4:58 pm

Yes, this referring back with the definite article is called ANAPHORIC reference e.g. You described a man with a beard. Is this the man?

Post Reply